22 Jump Street (2014) & Cold In July (2014)
Right, now pay attention team, there has been far too much tangential trailer action going on around here of late, so it’s time for another double bill to spirit away these wretched sweltering months. For the so-called height of summer season pickings are slim at the moment, although some of that may partially due to my seizure of new releases as soon as they hit the multiplexes. Early July appears to be a quiet period before the next Apes movie, the next Marvel movie and the next offensive movie douses screens with the usual digital carnage, I’m almost tempted to go and see the latter purely for the exercise of writing a review for one of the most revelled films of recent history – but surely like the misplaced David said to his new buddy ‘One billion Chinese can’t be wrong Michael‘. Before we get on with proceedings I think it’s worth mentioning that I might just be a little excited about this, although like the recently announced and immediately sold out appearance of Al Pacino at the BFI getting tickets is gonna be tough. Speaking of Pacino I’ somehow managed to crowbar in High-Def viewings of both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II last weekend – the much maligned Part III can wait until a quiet evening over the next fortnight although I must admit I’m curious to revisit it as I haven’t seen it in many years – so this schedule had a great deal to match-up against when viewed in the shadows of arguably two of the greatest American films ever made. Nevertheless like an even-handed consigliere my judgement shall be tempered and fair, so lets kick things off with a trailer,
I was somewhat mystified by the affection that 21 Jump Street received upon its release a couple of years ago, the buddy-cop action/comedy genre has been a stalwart money spinner for decades of course but when I finally got round to seeing the picture the comedy mostly sailed over my head, and my indifference to Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum was reinforced. Don’t get me wrong, either of them can be pretty good in the right hands – Soderbergh or Scorsese for example – but the frat house inklings of the movie left me a little cold, with only a couple of small gags about imprinintg an adults ability to achieve tasks denied to adolescents raising the requisite grins. Nevertheless the sequel has gone down gangbusters stateside both critically and commercially and I had some time to kill before my second screening, s0 I thought I’d give these juvenile reprobates a chance to bruise the funny bone – besides it was either this or Disney for fucks sake. So the boys are back undercover to smash a drug-ring, this time they’ve been promoted to College from the halls of Junior High in the previous movie, with the same hi-jinks and all the frantic fraternity Bacchanalia that you’d expect in this collusion of bromance and bullet blasts.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are riding high on the enormous success of The Lego Movie and the are the current kings of the contemporary post-modern quip, a comedic channel which they balloon to almost grotesque proportions in this frequently amusing but narrative timid movie. Much of the praise reverberating around 22 Jump Street relates to its self-aware sequel status, with numerous asides to a knowing audience, with a self-regarding strafing of the fourth wall acknowledgement of how sequels are just re-treards of previous escapades with more money’ and pyrotechnics,plot xeroes with a few more cameos and craziness to keep the media juggernaut rolling. The bromance is blasted front and centre with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill tittering on the brink of screaming ‘f*ck it’ and tearing off each others clothes and grasping for each others genitals, a fact that the screenwriters gleefully plunder with the requisite 2014 homo-friendly gags and situations. Due to the hackneyed plot I’m still a little ambivalent to the series – the cookie cutter inciting incident, character conflict then action beat resolution peppered with a little crowbared (and utterly unconvincing) emotional pathos stands in uneasy embarrassment against the wider chaotic comedic carnage, but I can’t deny the dozen or so belly laughs that the film delivers, even as it simultaneously tetters on the high wire act of post-modern in-jokes and traditional Hollywood story arcs – it’s a weird combination which wants to have its marijuana laced brownies and eat ‘em. You may have heard that the film’s highpoint is the closing credits which sounds like damning with faint praise, truth be told I found some of the more situational material earlier in the film more deftly delivered (evading specific details Ice Cube’s seething police commander is fantastic) and if you’re up for a few beers with your homies then this should suit the agenda, dawg.
Much more up my rain-spattered alley was Cold In July, a gloomy Texan set neo-noir starring Michael J. Williams, the always great Sam Shepherd and Don Johnson who was strutting around London last week conducting a fair bit of press and numerous screening Q&A’s, alas my day job out in the wilds of Buckinghamshire curtailed my attendance at any of the well received promotional activities. As we all know neo-noir is a Menagerie favourite so when this cropped up I raised a quizzical scotch-soaked eyebrow, I’d heard nothing about it before and had studiously avoided any reviews or plot details since. Based on the 1989 novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale the Peckinpah influenced patois opens with a blood and brain excreting bang, as terrified farmer Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) despatches a scarf covered intruder at his remote farmhouse. Terrified and and wracked with guilt Richard takes solace in the fact he was only protecting his wife (Vinessa Shaw who seems to be cropping up in more roles following last years Side Effects) and young son, the police reassuring him that the perp was a bad dude who had this reckoning coming, sooner or later. The slain burglar is revealed as a local hoodlum and there’s an unfortunate twist, his convict father Bernard (a particularly grizzled Sam Shepherd) has just been paroled for crimes unknown and he appears to be making his way to their small sleepy town to attend his son’s funeral. A campaign of discrete threats and vengeful promises coalesce with an increasingly creepy gleee, an eye for an eye striking promising a biblical wrath, before a wider conspiracy forges an unlikely alliance….
It is rather unfortunate timing for Cold In July to amble along in its pick-up truck whilst the fundamentally superior Blue Ruin is barely decomposing in the ground, although they stalk similar territory – a gothic-hued vengeance, moonshine soaked criminality, a swampy moral code and fearless exposition of bludgeoning violence – July is the mongrel prairie cur of the pack with an action themed exploitation ending bolted onto an initial neo-noir infrastructure . The films clear winner is Don Johnson’s amusing turn as the colourful Private-Eye snooper Jim-Bob (yes, he’s called ‘Jim-Bob’), it’s not quite the career renaissance of McConaughy as the black helmed pederast of Killer Joe but he’s clearly revelling in the critical attention of his most successful and entertaining performance in years. Michael C. Hall tries gamely to shirk off his small screen Dexter and Six Feet Under persona as a mullet mauled red-neck, but his characters arc doesn’t feel quite dense enough to hang the entire film narrative upon, with a rather unconvincing drive to protect his son leading into more dangerous and fraught scenarios which result in some implausible behaviour.
By carefully considering spoilers the film does dive into unexpected territory around the mid-point which holds hand-cuffs the attention and keeps events fresh, but one can’t help think that the whole framing of the film should have been built around another character in the film which would have resulted in a more tangible emotional pay-off in the closing moments, rather than the distanced closure for a character whom doesn’t earn any grudging respect. In terms of genre credibility however the film has one carefully concealed throw-down piece which comes in the unlikely form of its terrific soundtrack , composer Jeff Grace embezzling the electronica nervosa of Tangerine Dream and early John Carpenter with a synth slithering score which already has the hardcore fans grinning in delight. Cold In July is an enjoyable aside for fans of nasty n’er do wells wallowing in the trough of corrupt law enforcement, of Dixie-land crime syndicates and compromised men whom breach the veneer of civilisation in order to ‘do the right thing’, with just enough queasy frontier cruelty until the next series of Justified is transmitted.